DCIM – it’s time to get real

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A few weeks ago I asked “What planet are DCIM vendors on?” and now I know; or at least I know where they are not: terra firma!  The blog clearly struck a chord or, rather, a nerve judging by the volume of visits to the site and the comments I received both publicly and privately particularly through various discussion groups on LinkedIn where I posted it.
Products too expensive; products too complicated; RoI hard to justify; and so on and so on.  Bottom line: there is a big disconnect between what data centre managers perceive as being good value and what vendors tell them it is.  What surprised me was how many salesmen from “big DCIM suite” vendors agreed.  I think this is a key reason why momentum in the DCIM market is much slower to build than analysts have been predicting for the last few years.  Another may be that some big players deliver more slideware than software.  For good measure one of the big beasts of the DCIM jungle just published a new announcement – “Schneider adds power distribution monitoring to DCIM suite”.  What?  I am sure plenty of people interested in this subject thought they had that already. How have we got to this position?  A very potted, simple history follows.  Some years back, one or two companies developed software products for data centre asset management.  Effectively glorified spreadsheets perhaps with diagramming added, these started life as many others have: as contract projects for an IT department in a big customer.  An opportunity was spotted by the developers and a “product” was born, funded by the first customer or two.  A very profitable niche had been identified and was exploited through the boom times with F100 companies buying into the products.  The licence and maintenance fees started climbing steeply and customers started grumbling but there were so many new prospects out there that it did not seem to matter too much.  Now another niche was opening in parallel – energy monitoring.  Data centres are energy hogs and when the downturn hit, energy prices started rocketing up and carbon taxes were looming, people became very concerned about the cost of powering these facilities.  Time to offer the market energy and infrastructure monitoring tools to read the sensors and meters and all the other non-CT kit that goes into making a data centre what it is.  Data centres already had BMS (building management systems) but these were and are often limited to the macro level of management within a facility and usable by one or two people.  The new tools are meant to be more flexible.  So, data centres were now offered asset management and energy or infrastructure management – and the term DCIM coined. Much has been predicted for the DCIM industry yet it has not taken off at the rate foreseen.  Some big hardware vendors have acquired and added software to their portfolios, melding different bits and pieces into “full DCIM suites”.  Often these are walled gardens designed with the vendors’ own hardware in mind and masquerading as being “open”.  This may be fine if you are buying everything for your data centre from that one vendor and intend to keep it that way but that is not reality for most.  Venture capitalists, almost exclusively in US, have backed some new entrants to compete with these gorillas but success has been limited.  With big money comes big expectations and often that means trying charge big $$$ for your software which means targeting only the biggest prospects.  The harsh economic climate of late has meant that very few people in an organization have real authority to spend money so you need to have a compelling business case for them, especially if you are asking for $millions to be spent.  The people signing the cheques do not tend to be the people who use DCIM so, as a vendor, you need to find a user who is prepared to put in the time to build the business case, is dogged enough to get on the agenda for the quarterly board / budget meeting, and confident enough to present case successfully.  That is a big ask.  As one experienced manager at a very large tech company commented:

If I added up all the savings that DCIM vendors promised me in people and capacity savings, I’d be a profit center for the company – and feed the world!

DCIM is a tool for good within data centres but it is not a magic bullet that can solve all problems.  For example, it is not usually considered to be business critical by users – if it fails, they can still bill customers and pay staff and so on – but it can deliver great value if it does not cost too much.  The quickest path to value is usually to leverage the investment already made in the data centre infrastructure – are my UPS, CRAC units, generators, distribution panels, rack PDUs, in-line meters, temperature and humidity sensors, etc etc capable of communicating and on the LAN?  If so, let’s implement the monitoring/reporting/alerting/dashboarding aspects of DCIM and start extracting value from all those devices and sensors immediately.  If not, let’s see how much it would cost to get all or enough of them on the LAN in order to be able to start monitoring them.  This can be done really cost-effectively with software from specialists like AdInfa with our InSite software.  And the business benefits kick-in straight away.  Firstly, you get immediate visibility of how your data centre is behaving through live dashboards and real-time reports.  Secondly, you see the effects of any changes you make straight away: for example, raising the ambient temperature of your data centre and saving on cooling costs.  Thirdly, you save money by replacing error-prone manual processes with automated ones and by consuming less power in non-compute activities. Perhaps regarded as a boutique player in the DCIM market, AdInfa focuses on one thing: delighting customers.  That is done by listening to what they want to achieve, what problems they want to solve, what criteria they need to meet and delivering it at a price that makes sense to them.  As one comment on my previous blog stated:

If a customer needs a tyre, fit them a tyre; don’t sell them a BMW!

So, come on DCIM – it’s time to get real.

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